Sun's apparent end to topless Page Three pictures 'overdue'

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Media captionPage Three: Are you for or against?

The Sun's apparent decision to stop featuring pictures of topless women on Page Three has been welcomed by campaigners and MPs.

It was described by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan as "long overdue".

But some models defended the right to appear topless in the newspaper, saying it would be "regressive" to end it.

The Sun is yet to confirm or deny the move, which was reported in Tuesday's edition of The Times, but has not featured topless models since Friday.

'Significant step'

Page Three of Monday's Sun featured model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in lingerie, while Hollyoaks actresses Jennifer Metcalfe and Gemma Merna were photographed in bikinis on a beach on Tuesday.

The Sun's head of public relations Dylan Sharpe has described reports that Page Three has been dropped as "wild speculation".

The Times, a fellow News UK title, said it understood Friday's edition of the Sun was the last that would carry images of topless women, although they would continue online.

It said it understood that News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch had signed off the decision.

He had hinted on Twitter last year that he was considering an end to the photographs of semi-naked women.

Page Three has been a Sun feature for 44 years but has been criticised for being sexist and outdated. The newspaper had already stopped carrying topless images at weekends, and sometimes did the same during the week.

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Image caption Tuesday's edition of The Sun featured pictures of actresses in bikinis on page three

Ms Morgan, who is also women and equalities minister, said ending Page Three was a "a small but significant step towards improving media portrayal of women and girls", adding that she hoped it would be permanent.

Liberal Democrat equalities minister Jo Swinson also hailed the apparent move but said there was "still a massive issue within the media about the portrayal of women".

She said: "We've got some positive moves today from the Sun but we shouldn't feel that just because the models on page 3 are wearing a tiny bikini top now, that everything's been sorted - there's still a lot more to do."

Former Page Three model Melinda Messenger said: "I personally think it's a good decision to end Page Three.

"It's had a long life, but we all have to change for the better - that is what society is all about.

"I will always have fond memories of working with The Sun, even though it was only for a short while, but now I'm older and wiser, it's not something I would advise any girl to do."

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Media captionPage Three modelling 'my choice'

But others said women had the right to appear topless.

Jodie Marsh, who has featured on Page Three a number of times, tweeted in defence of the Sun's feature: "So called 'feminists' really annoy me. Telling girls they shouldn't do page 3 is NOT being a feminist; women should do WHATEVER they want!!"

Laura Lacole, a former topless model, said: "This is a blow to an entire industry that affects women. That is not in aid of the feminist movement, that is regressing something, it is taking away a right of women to express their sexuality."

Former topless model Nicola McLean said: "I thought we were fighting for women to be able to do what they wanted to do.

"But now we have no choice to do Page Three because they've taken that choice away from us."

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Media captionAnne Louise Kershaw, No More Page Three: "It's a positive step"

The Sun's topless images have long drawn protests from campaigners, with an online petition against their use attracting more than 215,000 signatures so far.

A campaign group called No More Page Three was founded in 2012 by Lucy-Anne Holmes, and has since gained support from a number of MPs and anti-sexism charities.

Ms Holmes told the BBC: "I can't stand here and say it's an amazing day for women and female representation in the media.

"Essentially all the Sun have done is they have stopped showing nipples, but they're now going to show women in bikinis or underwear.

"The Sun is still saying women are there primarily to decorate the news."

'Matter for newspapers'

Downing Street said the prime minister believes it is up to newspapers to decide what they publish.

Number Ten declined to express any opinion over whether David Cameron welcomed the Sun's decision.

The prime minister's spokesman said: "He thinks what newspapers publish is a matter for newspapers. His view is that editorial decisions are for editors."

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Media captionArchive clips of views for and against topless images on Page Three

Labour sources said Ed Miliband would be "pleased" by the decision as "he has said before it was out of date", according to BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith.

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman described the development as "quite a moment", telling the BBC: "The idea that the biggest representation of women in a national newspaper is about their physical attractiveness [...] that is not what women's place in society is, in this century, and I think it's right that they've moved on from that."

Labour MP Stella Creasy, also an anti-Page Three campaigner, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The objectification of women in this way was basically saying to all of us that what mattered, frankly, were our breasts not our brains."

The Irish edition of the Sun stopped topless pictures two years ago.

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